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The Signature School Story – A Model of Excellence in Evansville, Indiana

In the heart of Downtown Evansville, Indiana, a shining example of educational innovation and success has been quietly transforming lives for years. Signature School, a tuition-free public charter school with open admissions, stands as a testament to the power of dedicated educators, engaged students, and a community committed to fostering academic excellence. Let’s dive into the remarkable journey of the Signature School and explore how it has become a beacon of hope and achievement in the Hoosier State and more specifically Downtown Evansville.

A Bold Vision

Founded in 2002, the Signature School emerged from a vision to redefine education by offering a dynamic and challenging learning environment to motivated students. With the combined efforts and leadership of a group of trailblazing educators and Board President Robert L. Koch II, Signature School was born, and a culture of success was established.

With an emphasis on fostering critical thinking, creativity, and community engagement, Signature School set out to provide a platform where students could thrive academically and personally. This commitment rings true in what Lily Durcholz, Director of Development deemed “The Sig Way”. The “Sig Way” is all about fostering a culture of trust with students and faculty; this is displayed through acceptance and tolerance and an attitude of openness. This idea is fundamental to how Signature School distinguishes itself from otherschools.

Academic Excellence Unveiled

Signature School’s curriculum is centered around providing a rigorous and stimulating education that prepares students for post-secondary education. One example of this is Kerry Ao, a recent alum of Signature School who graduated in 2023. Kerry created Intertwined, a financial literacy program which will be used in schools across the country. He also raised $36,000 for this startup, all while balancing his academics at Signature. Kerry is continuing his studies at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business on a full-ride merit scholarship. Kerry is one of many examples of how rigor, innovation, and intentionality can foster global success through Evansville, IN.

Rigorous coursework, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate classes, and a focus on honing critical analytical skills have consistently propelled students toward higher education and beyond at Signature. “We believe that students, given the opportunity, can achieve a high level of academic success. All students, regardless of test scores or other criteria, are enrolled in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. There are no barriers. Our students always amaze me!” said Jean Hitchcock, Executive Director and Principal at Signature. The school’s commitment to cultivating a love of learning, independent thinking, and a thirst for knowledge has garnered attention and accolades from both local and national media, as evidenced by: US News & World Report’s ranking of Signature as the Second Best High School and Best Charter School in the Nation and Best High School in Indiana, and Jay Mathew’s ranking Signature School number one in his list of Most Challenging High Schools in the Country. No doubt you can see that excellence and intentionality are key aspects of the Signature School way.

Innovative Teaching Methodologies

At the heart of Signature School’s success lies its dedication to innovative teaching methodologies. Educators here go beyond traditional teaching methods, encouraging interactive learning, collaboration, and real-world applications. With small class sizes, teachers can provide personalized attention, fostering deeper connections with students and addressing their unique learning needs. However, it’s not just the size of the class that provides this opportunity. It truly takes a special type of person to teach at Signature. “When hiring faculty, Signature looks for individuals who reflect the qualities represented in the school’s crest: Scholarship, Passion, Excellence, Motivation, Commitment, Innovation, and Integrity,” said Jean. By using this approach Signature School has delivered on academic outcomes, but equally important has tapped into the full potential of each student collectively and individually. 

A Nurturing Community

Signature School isn’t just a place for learning; it’s a tight-knit community that celebrates diversity and supports students’ holistic growth. Because of the school’s location downtown, students are given a significant level of freedom that’s meant to replicate a post-secondary experience. This can be seen through students’ ability to go to the YMCA for fitness, engage in the Market on Main during lunch hours, and even grab a coffee at a local coffee shop. Through these experiences including extracurricular activities, clubs, community engagement, and civic projects, students develop leadership skills, build character, and contribute positively to society by both giving to and utilizing the assets that Downtown Evansville has to offer. This sense of belonging and connectivity fosters lifelong friendships, spurs innovation, and enriches student experiences that extend far beyond the classroom.

Success Stories

Signature School’s impact is evident in its graduates who have gone on to excel in various fields. Alumni have been accepted into prestigious universities, embarked on successful careers, and even become influential figures in their communities. Their stories serve as an inspiration to current students, affirming the value of hard work, determination, and a quality education. Because Signature School is a tuition-free, open-admission public charter school the diversity of students is significant. This in return has fostered a culture of innovation, diverse perspectives, and healthy competition.

However, the students are not the only “shining stars”. Signature School attracts and retains some of the best and brightest secondary teachers as well. When talking with Lily she shared a story from when she was in school at Signature, “Mr. Thread would teach us when we were taking notes to write something down multiple times as this is a best practice to retain and remember critical information.” Lily then went on to share that this small study tip was a critical part of her study methodology and success once she got to college. While this might seem small, these are the “game-changing” factors that the Signature School faculty are bringing to these students, ultimately translating into very successful and highly prepared graduates.

A Catalyst for Educational Change

Beyond its own classrooms, Signature School has played a pivotal role in sparking conversations about educational transformation. Its success has challenged traditional educational paradigms and encouraged other institutions to embrace innovative teaching techniques, personalized learning, and student-centered approaches. While all these things are true, Lily shared an important piece of the success of Signature School. “Students absolutely have to be self-motivated; there will be late nights of homework and tests to study for. But you will be surrounded and supported by people who push one another to the next level in the best of ways. You will make lifelong friends and unforgettable memories. You’d be surprised at the number of marriages among our alums! With students that are self-motivated and faculty that truly believe in bringing out the full potential of every student, this combination really translates into the excellence and sustained success that the school, students, and faculty have experienced for the last 20 plus years.”

Signature School’s journey as a tuition-free charter school in Evansville, Indiana, is a testament to the transformative power of education. Through its commitment to academic excellence, innovative teaching, and a nurturing community, it has not only shaped the lives of its students but also catalyzed positive change in the realm of education and shaped what the makeup of Downtown Evansville is today. As the school continues to inspire future generations, it stands as a shining example of what’s possible when passion, dedication, and a vision for excellence come together in the pursuit of knowledge and growth.